Thursday, May 14, 2009

Portrait Day Wednesday On Thursday: Where To Shoot The Portrait - At Home, Outside At Home or The Park

Good morning everybody,
We are having a great time in California this week. Starting in San Francisco, heading over to Sacramento, and landing in San Jose last night. Were on our way to Fresno today for the last city of this week's tour. It's been a wonderful opportunity meeting all the photographers at each of the locations and witnessing their enthusiasm both for the Digital WakeUp Call program and digital photography in general.

Unfortunately, it's been a little tough to keep up with the blog just simply because of the lack of time in between cities but I am going to continue to give it my best shot here again today. Typically today would be to business day Thursday but, since our Wednesday series really talks a lot about business, I think it's okay that we slip Wednesday's post into today's post. So let's get started with Portrait Day Wednesday: Booking, Shooting, and Selling the Family Portrait.

Portrait Day Wednesday: Booking, Shooting, and Selling the Family Portrait
I'm really want to walk through this series in some pretty fine detail for the benefit of our DigitalProTalk readers. Today I like to cover one more topic that I discuss with my clients when planning a portrait session. It's really about the location of the portrait. Let me explain.

When planning a family portrait, many people really have no idea where they might want their photographs taken. I've had three main choices I discuss with my clients. My thanks to Kent Smith Photography for today's images.

Hit the “Read More…” link for the rest of the story.

First choice – In Their Home
Now, generally when were photographing in their home, this would imply a more formal portrait session for the family. A formal portrait session means that the men would be in sports jackets button up shirts and the ladies would be dressed accordingly moist often in dresses, skirts or a dressy pantsuit. Now making the portrait in the home works great, has terrific sentimental values for the images captured particularly if the home is a beautiful home and we have all the fine architecture in which to work. The fact of the matter is most of us don't get the opportunity to shoot in those kinds of homes very often -- me included.

So, what it comes down to is this. When I'm asked to photograph in a client's home, I want to determine just what the architecture of the home includes. We recently photographed clients in their home and it was a simple Midwestern setting and we got a nice traditional portrait of the family. They were the type of client that was looking for something just a bit more formal so we had the men in white shirts and ties and, as I said the ladies dressed in appropriate somewhat matching attire as well.

Typically we're shooting in the home during the cold winter months here in the Cincinnati area. Having said that though let me add that most of our family portraits are usually done in the late spring through early fall. This then gives us the opportunity to select location number two.

Second choice -- Outdoors At Their Home
I always suggest to my clients that one of the possibilities is to make the photographs at their home in the outdoor surrounds, presuming of course that the outdoor surrounds of their homes are conducive to a beautiful family portrait. Many times since my clients are close by, I'll even suggest a site survey whereby I actually go to their home and survey the grounds to see where we might make the portrait and also to check the light at the time of the day that we tentatively scheduled the portrait to be taken.

I want to add, that most of the time I can easily pull off a nice portrait in the client's backyard. Again, let me say that the clients that were working with generally have a larger backyard that is nicely landscaped, with rolling hills, lots of trees and foliage which really gives us a nice background for our portrait session.

But, for a lot of our portrait clients the backyard may not be the best location. Remember, when working in a person's backyard we first of all need to find a background that is conducive to the family portrait. That would mean a stand of trees, foliage, and landscaping that we can throw sufficiently out of focus to serve as a nice, believable and timeless background for the portrait.

When I say throw the background out of focus that means that I'm using a long lens - my 70-200mm IS F2.8 lens - and it's racked out to about 150 mm. Having said that - I'm implying here that the distance from me to the subject is going to be a pretty good distance.

That implies that in photographing family portraits outdoors that we need a fairly large space to accommodate the setting and a telephoto lens that I'm using. So, photographing in the family’s backyard is an option for us but only about 20% of the time. Which brings us to our third option.

Third Option -- Outdoors At A Park
This is probably my favorite option. We work in several parks around the greater Cincinnati area and I have most of them “wired” for photography. What I mean by “wired” is this. I know the best places to shoot in several parks in the area and what time to photograph our portraits in the various locations around the park. Therefore, when interviewing my clients and when planning their family portrait I try to suggest the park that would be close to their home where we can meet at the best hour to do the family portraits.

What is the best time to do the family portrait? The best time for me is about two to three hours before sunset. We'll cover this in a later post. But, having said that when 'm in a client planning session I'll suggest the times that I think would be best for the portraits and then of course the best park location for their family portrait. Once we agree to the time and location, clothing suggestions have been discussed, expectations have been reviewed, a deposit in the amount of the session fee received, we are good to go for the scheduled family portrait session.

The reason I liked the parks as the optimum shooting location for family portraiture is this. It gives me a number of options throughout the park in which to make the family portrait. That adds quite a bit of variety to our shooting session. In a portrait session a lot of variety in generally leads to sales that can be substantially higher than just when making images in just one location like a client's backyard.

Again, at the various parks around the city, each one is landscaped differently. I love looking for backgrounds that not just include green trees but also include color in foliage that can serve as added interest in the background of the family portrait. I think of our favorite park in Cincinnati, Ohio, Ault Park, which is probably my favorite location for a family portraits. There are many, many areas and about four favorite locations within a park that let me shoot a wide variety of images for my client.

So, what I would suggest you do is to survey parks in your area, check out the landscaping of those parks, see how the light is falling onto those areas of the park noting the time of the day. While surveying the parks, make some test shoots in those locations – see how the background looks at say F4.0 with your lens focused on where the subject will tentative be positioned. You can even show your clients what the various locations look like and get their feedback as well.

What's happening here is what I've mentioned so many times -- we're building client expectations for a wonderful family portrait event. When you show that you really go the extra mile in order to make their family portrait the best, the client senses the extra effort. That adds to the “chemistry” of your relationship with your client which in turn enhances the client experience and leads to a beautiful result for you and your client.

Hey gang, that's it for me today. We've got to get moving here in the next few minutes on our way to Fresno. I hope to see many of you there this evening at city number 19 of my Digital WakeUp Call tour. Adios, -- Dave


  1. David, thank you for these great timely tips, as I have been asked recently to do several family portraits. Now I can face this with confidence and enthusiasm. Mucho appreciado!

  2. Thanks for the great post and I'm looking forward to the Texas leg of your tour next month. Question for you is do many parks in your area charge for professional photography? I'm finding that several in my area are charging $25 to $100 per hour for compensated photography. Do you deal with this much and do you prefer parks with or without fees as there can be advantages to both. Thanks!

  3. The timing of your post was excellent. I am meeting with a client this evening. Though my portrait session will not be with a family, your post gave me ideas that I can apply to making portrait of an individual.
    Thanks for the informative post!

  4. Good stuff David. What a post. I had mac read it to me because it was so long, but I'm glad you took the time for it.

    We were talking about you on PPS the other night. I few other regulars from PPS will be at your sessions around the county ;)